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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: How it Works, What it Does, & How it Feels

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: How it Works, What it Does, & How it Feels

Have you heard of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber? This treatment will be coming to Princeton Integrative Health in the near future. While it has mainly treated decompression sickness and arterial gas embolism in the past, it has proven to be increasingly relevant – or rather, a game changer – in a host of other medical conditions.

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and how does it work? 

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a treatment in which a patient is placed in a clear plastic chamber which is pressurized with pure oxygen up to three times normal air pressure. This increases the oxygen level in the blood and ultimately in the body tissues, stimulating cellular growth and repair. One thing is for sure: Every cell of the body is dependent upon oxygen for the growth, repair, and preservation of cellular functioning. The HBOT benefits work by breathing in the oxygen and getting it into the bloodstream. When we poor blood flow, an injury is more pronounced, so ideally, the earlier the treatment, the better the benefit. So why are HBOT’s mechanisms so important? 

Think about it: when we have a wound, our primary goal is to grow tissue, be it in the form of blood vessels, connective tissue, bone, skin, brain tissue. To grow new tissue, you have to stimulate cells to divide and multiply, and to do this, DNA needs to be altered in some fashion. In 2008, Dr. Godman and researchers found that a single hyperbaric treatment to human cells turns on and off as many as 8,101 genes in the 24 hours post-HBOT. The turned on genes were those of growth and repair hormones and anti-inflammatory genes; the turned off genes are the pro-inflammatory genes and those that code for cell death. All this is to say that HBOT is an organic gene therapy. 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used to treat several medical conditions including:  

  • Severe anemia  
  • Brain abscess  
  • Bubbles of air in blood vessels (arterial gas embolism)  
  • Burn  
  • Decompression sickness  
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning  
  • Crushing injury  
  • Deafness, sudden  
  • Gangrene  
  • Infection of skin or bone that causes tissue death 
  • Non-healing wounds, such as a diabetic foot ulcer  
  • Radiation injury  
  • Skin graft or skin flap at risk of tissue Vision loss, sudden and painless 

How does HBOT feel like? 

Patients lie comfortably and restfully in the chamber. Patients can listen to music, watch television or movies, or nap if they wish. During certain stages of the treatment, patients may experience a sensation in the ears, similar to going on an airplane. 

Any side effects? 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is performed under medical supervision is one oof the lowest risk medical treatments available today. Like all medical treatments and procedures, there are some side effect – like fatigue - associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Overall, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is extremely safe. 

The PIH Perspective 

At PIH, we’re always looking for ways to support our patients. HBOT aligns with our “whole body” approach because oxygen and pressure are introduced to every cell, and therefore all damaged areas of the body are simultaneously exposed to its therapeutic effects. We understand that sometimes our lifestyle changes only take us so far, and sometimes we just need an extra (oxygenated) boost. Dr. Vincent Leonti has been learning about HBOT, having attended various conferences, and is confident that HBOT will be a life-changing treatment for those combatting “helpless” diseases. 

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